Ireland: New public sector agreement passed

The Lansdowne Road Agreement was approved by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in September 2015. The deal extends the provisions of the previous Haddington Road Agreement, but introduces phased pay restoration between 2016 and 2018 of around €2,000 for most public sector workers in a flat rate approach designed to benefit lower-paid workers.

In September 2015, the public services committee (PSC) of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Congress) formally accepted the new Public Sector Stability Agreement 2013–2018, known as the Lansdowne Road Agreement (LRA), on behalf of around 290,000 public servants. The agreement was proposed by the Labour Relations Commission, which facilitated the negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER). The deal extends the provisions of the previous public service agreement, the Haddington Road Agreement. 

Outcome of ballot on the agreement

The formal acceptance followed ballots conducted by individual public sector trade unions. The final delegate count in favour of the agreement was just over 2,300, with approximately 500 delegates thought likely to oppose out of a total count of 2,890. At the time of writing, two secondary teacher unions had yet to record ballot results, but the executives of both have recommended a ‘No’ vote. However, the outcome of these ballots will make no difference to the aggregate outcome as, between them, the two unions have a combined delegate strength of just 341. 

The largest ‘Yes’ votes were recorded by the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) (719 delegates), the Irish Municipal Public and Civil Trade Union (IMPACT) (606 delegates), the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) (390 delegates), the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) (314 delegates), the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) (128 delegates) and the Public Services Executive Union (PSEU ) (113 delegates).

Main features of the agreement 

The LRA agreement will cost €566 million over a three-year period. It grants an average payment of €2,000 over three phases to a majority of public servants between January 2016 and September 2017. This is to be applied through adjustments to the public service pension levy and a partial reversal of the pay cuts introduced following the fiscal and economic crisis under emergency legislation (Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act) which first applied in 2010. Lower-paid public servants will secure relatively higher rewards, by way of a flat rate pay adjustment, compared with their senior colleagues.

The industrial relations oversight arrangements, which involve binding decisions by third parties for all LRA-related issues and were introduced in the first of these public sector agreements in 2010 (the Croke Park Agreement), will continue. There are also new protections on outsourcing, an important issue for trade unions with members who provide services that could be contracted out to the private sector. Guarantees that no compulsory redundancies will be sought are to continue. 

Separately, parallel talks on an easing of emergency pension reductions, which started in 2001, are to be applied to existing public service pensioners, bringing relief to almost 90,000 people. Most public service pensioners will receive €1,680 over three years.

It was also decided, in a separate set of talks, that the pay cuts imposed on public servants earning above €100,000 per year under the Haddington Road Agreement would be restored over three phases beginning in 2017.

'Flat rate' approach

The fact that the pay restoration arrangements in the LRA are weighted in favour of those on lower pay helped its passage and ensured strong majorities in unions whose members are all in this bracket, such as CPSU), or in unions like SIPTU and IMPACT which have a significant proportion of members in the lower paid bracket.

In fact, the left-wing CPSU went against tradition by voting strongly in favour of the LRA. The CPSU General Secretary, Eoin Ronayne, said that the union's members 'recognised that the flat rate mechanism used to restore some of the pension levy and basic pay in the deal prioritised lower paid workers'.

Shay Cody, General Secretary of IMPACT and the Chair of the PSC, said that the LRA marked a significant step forward for workers after seven years of pay cuts. 'Pay improvements across all sectors are a crucial element of the country’s continuing economic recovery,' he said.

The DPER Minister, Brendan Howlin, said the LRA strikes the right balance 'between the legitimate aspirations of public servants for pay recovery and sustaining our improving public finances'. He added: 'It would secure a peaceful industrial relations environment until September 2018.'

Commentary

The only immediate industrial relations problem from the perspective of the government and a majority of the PSC unions centres on the position of the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), and perhaps that of its fellow secondary teachers' union, the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland (ASTI). TUI has stated that it will not be bound by the aggregate ballot rules of Congress, which commit public service unions to the PSC decision. This will not make any difference to the phased application of pay restoration measures, starting in January 2016, because the government cannot legally exclude any one group from the agreed pay alleviation measures.

However, secondary teachers could be vulnerable as a consequence of a separate industrial relations agreement on the consolidation of supervision and substitution payments agreed under the Haddington Road Agreement. It has been reported in the weekly Industrial Relations News that a refusal to accept the new LRA could leave these teachers open to ‘sanctions’ by way of a government decision not to adhere to payment of this separate deal. This will be a decision for a new government within the next 18 months after Ireland’s next general election, which must be held before early April 2017. 

As Ireland continues to recover from its fiscal crisis, the current government and the unions appear to have reached an accommodation that will result in a modest improvement of living standards for public servants. The agreement also ensures the continuation of an already impressive period of industrial peace, which was achieved despite pay cuts and impositions of changes such as extra, unpaid working hours.

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